The Trump administration sanctioned eight Venezuelan Supreme Court judges Thursday, freezing their assets and banning them from travel to the U.S. as punishment for stripping the Venezuelan Congress of all powers earlier this year, a decision the court later reversed amid widespread international outcry.
The sanctions are the first unrelated to drug trafficking imposed by the Trump administration against high-ranking members of the Venezuelan government. They are intended to continue to isolate the embattled administration of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, which has been besieged by weeks of escalating protests following an economic collapse that has left Venezuelans tired, poor and hungry.
“The United States is not going to allow those who impede democracy or violate human rights to go unpunished,” Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican who pushed for the sanctions, told the Miami Herald. He decried some of the judges by name Wednesday on the Senate floor, calling them “puppets who do [Maduro’s] bidding.”
The court, stacked with Maduro loyalists, declared in March it would assume all legislative functions from the opposition-controlled National Assembly, which had been deemed illegitimate after being held in contempt of previous court rulings. Denounced by the opposition and international community as an undemocratic power grab, the court’s decision was undone days later by the judges themselves, under apparent pressure from Maduro.
Even if reversed, the decision was only the latest in a series of rulings that undermined the legislative branch’s authority, senior Trump administration officials told reporters Thursday. One of them referred to “the rupture of democratic norms.”
“They have made a mockery of the separation of powers, and they have denied the Venezuelan people the right to shape their future,” the official said.
Photo credit: Fernando Llano, Associated Press